Hands On with Arduino
Blogger: Alex Kuefler
Photograph by Wendy Hsu
Last week, cognitive science professor Carmel Levitan and I sat down with CDLR postdoc fellow, Wendy Hsu. Our mission was to try our hands at programming a couple of Arduino microcontrollers. Within the hour we had lights flashing and speakers chirping over a table festooned with multicolored wires and upended cardboard boxes.
Arduino combines hardware and software into a single platform, ready-made for technophiles without requisite computer skills or soldering guns. But the handy microcontroller isn’t just a plaything for hobbyists. Working with Movable Parts, Wendy has already built the technology into an art installation featured at CicLAvia. Volunteers climbed onto bikes fitted with Arduino boards programmed to sense changes in the rotational speed of the wheels. Impromptu pedalers generated their own electricity and contributed to the flow of the music at the event.
Meanwhile, Professor Levitan and I are now exploring the device’s applications for presenting multisensory stimuli to participants of cognitive science experiments. An array of gadgets can be yoked to a prototyping board, and fed an Arduino “sketch” – a script written in the programming language C – to take inputs, and emit outputs. With the push of a button, data can be logged on a computer. With the execution of a line of code, a speaker might sing a preprogrammed melody.
Due to the precision with which it carries out commands, Arduino is a rough-and-ready, but effective means of stimulating different sensory systems in the millisecond timescale. Although we’re still determining how to best fit this flexible computing platform to fill our needs, an avid open source community backs Arduino with free tutorials and libraries of annotated sketches from which to draw inspiration. We’re excited to find out what the little blue unit can offer artists, scientists and curious tinkerers alike.
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